Our review of A Charlie Brown Valentine, published January 16th, 2011, is also available.
Good grief! Three Peanuts cartoons!
For this new DVD release, three Peanuts specials—one new and two old, all directed by veteran Charles Schulz collaborator Bill Melendez—have been packaged on a single disc.
Facts of the Case
On a scale of zero to five stars:
A Charlie Brown Valentine (2002)
There's No Time for Love, Charlie Brown (1973)
Someday, You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown (1981)
The death of creator Charles Schulz in early 2000 seemed to spell the end of any further Peanuts animated specials. However, this was not the case. After Schulz's death, we have seen several new specials, all premiering on ABC-TV. All bear the writing credit, "Written by Charles Schulz." Some may ask, How could this be? The answer is actually very simple. Producer Lee Mendelson and producer/director Bill Melendez, when asked to create more specials, made a crucial decision. With the permission of the Schulz family, Mendelson and Melendez looked over fifty years' worth of Peanuts comic strips. Then, depending on what theme the special required, the two compiled several related strips into script form. The result, a "new" Peanuts script "written" by Schulz.
Is it exploitation? Not at all. Mendelson and Melendez, both longtime friends of Schulz, pay him proper respect this way. The thinking of most studios would be to get a new writer. Peanuts, however, was uniquely Schulz; it was a very personal and sometimes autobiographical strip. A new writer would be unable to capture the innocence and human comedy that made Schulz's strips the masterpiece it was (and still is). By using Schulz's large body of existing work, the new specials retain those crucial ingredients. I'm positive "Sparky," as his friends called him, would have loved them.
A Charlie Brown Valentine has an episodic structure that remains faithful to the source material from which it is taken. All the qualities that made the stories so good in comic strip form are translated successfully to film. Originally airing on ABC-TV in February 2002, this special will surely become a future classic.
There's No Time for Love, Charlie Brown suffers from having become dated over the past thirty years. It isn't as consistently funny as the best Peanuts specials, and it tends to bog down in tedium toward the end. Schulz may have been making a point with this story, but unfortunately, he needed more time for setup than the twenty-five minutes allowed here.
Much better is Someday You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown. If you've ever loved someone from afar, only to discover that your best friend has taken her away, you'll sympathize with Charlie Brown's predicament. I know I did. Schulz balances sentiment with comedy, just as he does with his best strips. The sole weak point is the ending, which occurs abruptly rather than naturally. But so much of the special is good that you can forgive it.
Mendelson and Melendez are both veterans of Termite Terrace, the legendary Warner Bros. animation studio that produced the classic Looney Tunes shorts. After the first shutdown of the WB animation department in 1965, the two men formed their own studio. Their first production? A Charlie Brown Christmas, written by their good friend Charles Schulz. Several more specials, both Peanuts-related and not, followed. Why mention all this? In addition to providing some history about them, it also doubles as a preface for describing the animation. Like the classic Looney Tunes, Mendelson and Melendez take a simple yet effective approach that emphasizes characterization over barebones plot.
Paramount issues the usual featureless disc we've grown accustomed to seeing from them. The video transfer is full frame, appropriate since these cartoons were made for television. The quality varies. A Charlie Brown Valentine looks the best, with a nearly flawless transfer. Gorgeous colors appear especially rich, even lovelier than the original ABC telecast. The sole flaw is some edge enhancement, but then again, this may be an intentional effect the animators wanted to achieve, rather than the fault of any technician. There's No Time for Love, Charlie Brown looks the weakest of the bunch. It appears that minimal restoration was done on a print that is at least thirty years old. Grain is present, but never overwhelming. However, the telltale signs of age (subdued color, scratches, specks and dirt) are all too present. As for Someday, You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown, it looks better than No Time for Love, but not by much.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround stereo. A Charlie Brown Valentine sounds the best of the three, which is to be expected since it was made only two years ago and recorded in stereophonic sound. The other two specials don't sound quite as good. They were originally recorded in mono, and reprocessed for stereo. Unfortunately, the side effects that often plague reprocessed recordings are evident. The sound has a subdued feel to it. You will have to adjust your sound system accordingly.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Extras? The case considers the two "classic" specials extras as well as the previews for a previous VHS release of the Peanuts specials. No, I just cannot consider these extras.
Is this disc worth a purchase? I think so. The new special is one of the best Peanuts efforts to date. The two older specials have rarely aired on television since their initial premieres and the VHS releases are long out of print. Despite their flaws, both are worth a look. The $14.95 retail price will not break any wallets.
All charges against Charles Schulz and Mendelson-Melendez Productions are happily dropped. Paramount is given probation for the usual lack of extras.
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